As many as one in five veterans who
come home from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan can't find a job.
That's an unemployment rate nearly twice as high as the general
population, despite proven technical skills and leadership experience.
To address that, Washington Senator Patty Murray has introduced a
comprehensive new Veterans Employment Act.
Senator Murray says the bill was inspired by hearing stories like that of 34-year-old Dave Heller, who lives in Renton. He served in the Marines for 12 years, with four tours in Iraq. His military experience includes everything from technical writing to helping run a water-purification plant. He got out in August and has been looking for work ever since.
"I've sent out 311 resumes. I've got 19 different versions. I've gotten one interview that was actually not in the United States at all. It was in Tanzania. I didn't get that job regrettably. But I keep trying."
Heller moved here from North Carolina because he heard Washington is a veteran-friendly state and he'd like to go back to school with the help of the GI bill. But it's too expensive unless he can establish residency - which takes time. So he needs a job.
"At this point I'd be happy to push a
broom or a shovel. I'm grateful most of the time that I don't have a
family to support."
Heller thinks many employers hesitate to hire someone who might be dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome or other "hidden wounds of war."
Senator Murray says she heard from other veterans that they don't really know how to translate their experience into terms that make sense to civilian hiring managers.
She says the Veterans Employment Act would expand job training, placement services and entrepreneurship opportunities for vets.
"This is a bill that really comes at a turning point. Both in our economy and for our military. We have new veterans, many of them returning home every day and our economy is just starting to turn the corner. And as that happens, we cannot leave our veterans behind."
Specifically, she says the Act includes an expansion of the GI Bill to pay for union-based job training and apprenticeship programs. It would also set up a veterans' business center within the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Murray says the bill has bi-partisan support, but it's unclear what it would cost. Once a price tag is established, it will get its next reading in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Most likely that will happen in the next few months.